Huysegems, Bertos offloaded by Phoenix

SAM WORTHINGTON
Last updated 05:00 14/04/2014
Leo Bertos
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LEO BERTOS: The long-time Phoenix and All-Whites winger has been let go by the Wellington club.

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To his word, Phoenix coach Ernie Merrick has wasted no time in reshaping his underperforming squad.

A day after losing 4-1 to Melbourne Victory - narrowly avoiding retaining the wooden spoon - Merrick waved goodbye to off-contract veterans Stein Huysegems and Leo Bertos.

Huysegems, 31, was the club's leading goalscorer this season but the Belgian wanted a two-year extension and the Phoenix were only prepared to offer one.

"He wants longevity and I don't blame him for that," Merrick said.

"I completely understand what Stein is aiming to have. I know what we need to have and it just hasn't worked out. That's the nature of football."

Bertos, 32, played 127 games for the Phoenix but the Wellingtonian's form was fading even before an injury-riddled season.

"He's a bit of a legend in this country and with this team," Merrick said.

"But I haven't been able to get the best out of him because he was injured in pre-season and never really got over it."

Huysegems and Bertos were popular team men and genuine professionals.

Bertos was unavailable for comment but Huysegems has interest from multiple A-League clubs and hopes to continue his career in Australia.

He expressed some sadness that he was consigned to the bench on Saturday after starting all 26 previous matches.

"I understand why I wasn't starting, because he wanted to see a couple of guys for next season," Huysegems said.

"I have no problem with that but I was a little bit disappointed that I didn't get a couple of minutes. I had two beautiful years with the Phoenix and made a lot of friends. No regrets and I wish them the best for the future."

Huysegems returns to Belgium on Friday and regards his brace against Western Sydney on New Year's Day as his standout memory.

Merrick has 18 players on the books for next season, with fullback Josh Brindell-South close to agreeing a new deal.

His two recruitment priorities are a striker and a midfielder and the release of Huysegems opens up a valuable import slot.

"We've been looking at a range of players for the last five months. We wouldn't sign an Emile Heskey or Harry Kewell, we want someone who can grow with the team. I'm willing to take a bit of a risk on someone a bit younger with a good pedigree who is going to be here for a couple of years.

"If we can find someone before he's really discovered then you usually get them at the right price for the right period of time."

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Midfielder Carlos Hernandez is contracted for next season but has said he is open to other offers.

Said Merrick: "He's a signed player and there's nothing else to say."

The Phoenix are in talks with off-contract defender Shaun Timmins, while Paul Ifill's future hinges on his recovery from a ruptured Achilles.

"Paul is going to continue to train and rehab with us. But he won't go on contract until he's rehabbed and then we'll see where he's at."

Merrick hopes to have his full squad in Wellington for the start of pre-season on June 2 but finishing ninth of 10 teams won't help his recruitment drive.

"I think it's always been hard to attract high quality players to this club. If they're Australians and good players, it's usually more convenient to stay in Australia near family."

- The Dominion Post

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